Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Happy Australia Day?

I wasn’t sure how it would be, spending Australia Day in this part of the country, so recently taken from its original owners. Would the local Aboriginal people have an Invasion Day March? Would us gadiyas flaunt our occupation with a street party and a saluting of the flag, complete with its anachronistic Union Jack?

The day began with a fine Aussie tradition – Sky and Nyx killed a small dark snake in the backyard. We’ve seen so many snakes since we’ve been here that we’ve bought a Field Guide to the Reptiles of Australia. Brian was able to identify this one as an Ord River snake: venomous, but not big enough to kill a human. Certainly big enough to kill a dog. I don’t think our two will last long up here –  they’ve been hunting lizards, and if now they see a snake as fair game, they’ll go the way of every other snake-hunting dog.

We watched them for a while, waiting for symptoms, but they watched us watching them, all the time wagging their tails, so we locked them up and headed off.

The town seemed its usual quiet holiday self as we drove through on the way to Black Rock Springs, 25 kms away. The road in was closed after the rain a few weeks ago, but since this is a drier than usual Wet season it was opened again, the creek crossings only a few muddy puddles and the sand wet enough to support our 4WD. From the road we could see the water pouring over the escarpment, 80 metres up, and from the car park we could hear it splashing. At the bottom of the falls a fern-circled rock pool held cool, clean water with only two other swimmers in it.

We stayed for a couple of hours, swimming and standing on ledges at the side of the waterfall, getting spattered with falling drops. Sometimes the cascade increased until it was almost too hard to bear, then it would suddenly lessen to a few streams dribbling down the rock face. I’d love to know why.

Other people wandered up to the pool, said ‘hello’, had short swims or took a couple of photos then left. We sat on submerged rocks, up to our waists in the water, with the 40° sun streaming onto our heads and little silver fishes darting around our feet and attacking dropped bits of pear.

With a glass or two of champagne and some cheese I could’ve stayed there all afternoon, but we hadn’t planned our excursion that well. Brian clunked the car into four-wheel-drive and we rumbled around to the next cleft in the escarpment, Middle Springs.

Down into a rocky clearing, and into the biggest collection of Australian flags I’ve seen outside an Anzac Day parade. I felt like we’d stumbled into an enemy camp – the effect was one of outright aggression. Each of the 6 white 4WDs had a small flag on its bonnet, and each 4WD was pulling a trailer with two quad bikes, each with a flag at the front. Two tents set up under the trees had full-size flags tied to their tent poles.

I’ve never understood domestic flag flying. I understand a flag over an official building, but I don’t understand what a flying flag on a car or house is supposed to say to me.

‘I love my country’?

What exactly do you love, then? Its people, its environment, its principles? And why do you feel the need to tell me? I live here. I know.

Or are you threatening someone? Terrorists? Refugees? Asians? Wogs? Muslims? I hate flagpoles in front gardens and I’m not too keen on nationalism. It’s not significant that we’re Australians, or even that we’re humans; to me we’re just Gaia, a planet trying to survive the best it can.

We couldn’t drive into the Middle Springs clearing – a car with trailer was parked right across the track. We waited politely until the driver noticed us, shrugged his shoulders, then eventually pulled out of our way. He didn’t smile or wave.

The place was full of archetypal yobbos. The men had short short hair and all of them were sucking on their stubbies as they wandered around in singlets and shorts, or sat in the water with only their heads and beer hands above water. The women were tubby in their bikini tops and shorts, looking after the children bright in their bathers and hats. There was a Blue Heeler wandering around the campsites, of course.

I felt threatened, but I’ve learnt over the years that nearly everyone I meet in my ordinary life is as ordinary as me, with much the same joys and fears, so while Brian climbed up over the cliff to find the pools we’d heard were above the waterfall, I sat in the water and watched.

‘Hey Yobbo. Yobb! You comin’ with us?”, one of them called to his mate in the water. So my stereotyping was correct!

This pool was 30 metres wide and shallow, surrounded by drooping paperbarks. Its waterfall was only about 10 metres high, a single stream flowing down a receding pink rock cliff studded with creamy spinifex clumps. The water was warm, its surface littered with bits of paperbark and weed. A black stain on the rock showed where it usually runs full in the Wet, but not this dry Wet.

Another white 4WD came down the track, this one with TWO flags sticking out its windows. The family clambered out into the heat and two boys ran down to the water near me. They were Aboriginal kids, their parents friendly Westernised Aboriginals, and they were flying the Oz flag – doubly! Because they loved the new Australia they’d been forced live in? To avoid confrontation? They sat in the warm water and talked and joked and they didn’t look worried at all.

Another revelation – some of the yobbos drinking beer in the water were speaking another language – not Italian or French – something like Croatian or Hungarian. Why would they fly the flag? Maybe their parents were refugees, or maybe they themselves were recent immigrants, come to breathe the fresh air and soak up the sun of the Great South Land. They talked and joked too, with their kids swimming in and around their legs.

People were packing up and heading back to town for work tomorrow. I sat under a paperbark and watched a black kite circle the clearing, the pale edge of its tail translucent against the sun. It swooped low again and again, then had the courage to land at one of the just-packed-up campsites long enough to pick up a scrap. It knew Australia Day was nearly over, too.

In a patriotic Oz Day mood, brought on by amazing scenery and fabulous swimming, I decided this place demonstrated the best symbolism Australia Day can offer me. The original inhabitants fly the flag, the colonisers fly the flag, the recent immigrants fly the flag. Maybe all for different reasons, or maybe all for the same Oz reason – any chance to have some fun!


  1. Oz?
    Interesting take, pointing out some issues in present Australia. Happy Day!

  2. I hate nationalism too, Gretta. It's so dangerous.

    When you wrote here about coming across all these flags I panicked but I'm delighted to hear about how well it all turned out.

    If you get a chance take a look at Luca Antara, Martin Edmund's blog. He's a fantastic New Zealand born writer currently living in Sydney.

    His writing is superb and his latest post inspiring, without a word.

    Scroll down to earlier blogs, too. He's worth reading. See: http://lucaantara.blogspot.com/2010/01/blog-post_27.html

  3. Hi Gretta,
    A couple of times I've stood in the shower, thinking of you and the next-door kids dancing and playing in the rain.
    It's harder for me to visualize what you're describing in this post...since it's such foreign territory. Maybe I can't get farther than the woman in wet clothes handing them to you to put in a bag after she put on dry clothes....in the last post..but I'd love to see those aborigine children playing near you in whatever strange (to me) place you are lolling in...
    do all/most dogs die from killing poisonous snakes? how curious ...
    thank you!

  4. lakeviewer - 'Oz' is not widely used in this country, and I'm certainly showing my age by using it. but I like its connotations with (to?) the Wizard of Oz, and it's much quicker to write!

    Lis - i hate nationalism, yes, and i'm being very un-Australian by saying so. Luckily the xenophobic people wouldn't be reading my blog. I'll check out Martin's blog - I've gone back to two new jobs and I'm short on time

    Melissashook = glad i've given you shower thought material, at the very least!

    I'm being very careful with privacy here - I'm changing all the names and I only put up Vietta's photo after I wiped out her gorgeous little face, so I'll put up some countryside photos to give you an idea.

    yes, nearly all snakes in Oz are highly venomous. If my dogs take on even a slightly larger one than they did, they will very likely get bitten and die - it is v common occurrence in country areas